Introduced in the book Dr Atkins Diet Revolution, the Atkins diet promised people they could lose weight while eating as much meat, cheese, cream, eggs and other low-carbohydrate foods as they liked. The Atkins diet was endorsed by celebrities and departed from traditional nutritional advice to reduce fat. It changed the way many people ate, by rejecting even “complex carbohydrate” foods such as bread, pasta and rice.
The diet was, in many ways, a forerunner of the Keto diet that became popular in the 2010s. Both diets severely restrict carbohydrates, but the Atkins diet allowed more protein than is permitted on the Keto diet. The argument advanced by Dr Atkins in favour of his diet was that eating more fat gave you a metabolic advantage because “burning fat takes more calories so you expend more calories”. This claim has since proved to be bogus.
Nutritionists are not keen on the high-fat approach, although there is evidence that it can produce weight loss, at least in the short term. Both diets rely on the body entering a state called ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic state your body enters as a normal response to low glucose availability in the blood. It supplies extra energy to the brain in the form of ketones and results in lower insulin levels and the conversion of stored fat into energy.
The classic Atkins 20 Diet, has four stages. The first stage is the most restrictive, but each subsequent level allows for more carbs and food choices than the previous stage. It is more flexible and easier to follow than a strict Keto diet. However, at least in its initial form, its emphasis on “bad” fats like cream, bacon and fatty meats was somewhat alarming. Today’s Keto plans tend to stress healthier fats.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the Atkins Diet continues to evolve. It now encourages eating more high-fibre vegetables, accommodates vegetarian and vegan needs, and addresses health problems that may arise when beginning a low-carb diet.
A medical report issued by the New York medical examiner’s office a year after Dr Atkins’s death showed that he had a history of heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension.